After enduring the brunt of the pandemic's economic and social shutdowns in the previous quarter, large media companies saw their advertising businesses rebound in the September period.
Some industries, such as the movie and travel industries, have yet to recover, but media executives anticipate the final quarter of 2020 to yield continued sequential growth.
Fox Corp. CFO Steve Tomsic recently guided to the return of overall advertising revenue growth in the company’s second fiscal 2021 quarter. Speaking on the company's earnings call, Tomsic said the advance will materialize even as most of FOX (US)' scripted shows will not bow until the new year due to the pandemic's impact on production.
The executive cited strong performances at its news operation, TV station business and ad-supported video-on-demand service Tubi as reasons for the optimism, in addition to a heavy sports schedule ahead.
During its quarter ended Sept. 30, Fox's ad revenues declined 6.9% year over year to $969 million, marking an improvement from the 22.4% drop to $712 million in the previous quarter.
Cable actually moved into positive territory, up 18% year over year to $299 million as higher pricing and stronger ratings at FOX News Channel (US) were partially countered by fewer live events at FOX Sports 1 (US) due to the pandemic.
Broadcast ad revenue fell 15% to $670 million, owing largely to fewer NFL telecasts and the postponement of college football games and certain scripted programming at FOX Entertainment.
Discovery Inc. CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels, who had already guided toward continuing sequential improvement, reiterated the expectation on Dec. 2, the day the programmer introduced aggregate global streaming service, discovery+.
Wiedenfels said the ad sales picture continues to brighten, with the company now forecasting declines in the low- to mid-single digits both domestically and abroad during the fourth quarter.
Third-quarter ad revenues declined 7.6% year over year to $1.31 billion, after Discovery saw the revenue stream fall 21.4% to $1.27 billion in the second quarter.
U.S. advertising was down 8% to $941 million, reflective of softer demand tied to the pandemic, pay-TV ecosystem declines and lower ratings, partially offset by higher pricing. Excluding currency translation, international advertising decreased 9% to $365 million, owing in large part to a decreased demand from the pandemic and the discontinuation of pay-TV distribution with certain European operators.
Third-quarter ad revenue declined 6.2% to $2.19 billion, after ViacomCBS Inc. sustained a nearly 27% decline in the second quarter. Cable ad revenue was off 11% to $1.14 billion, while TV entertainment dipped 1%, reflective of the timing of sporting events and political advertising.
CFO Naveen Chopra said on the company's earnings call that he expects the trends to continue, driven by strength in political, sports and digital. Free ad-supported service Pluto TV notched double-digit growth in the period, as well.
Pharmaceutical advertising remained strong in the third quarter, with automotive, financial services and retail all showing improvement.
The pandemic's halt of production is being felt at Comcast Corp.'s programming arm. NBCUniversal Media LLC CEO Jeff Shell said on its parent's earnings call that a lack of new content is "driving the advertising choppiness and declines."
The company also is missing out on ad revenue from its position as the national and local rights-holders to five NHL teams on its regional sports networks. The NHL, which usually starts its new season in late September/early October, has yet to hit the ice for its 2020-21 season.
NBCU in the third quarter posted a 7.7% decline to $1.85 billion in ad revenues, versus a 27.5% drop to $1.64 billion in the second quarter.
The cable networks posted a 2.1% decline in ad revenue to $793 million, while broadcast television advertising revenue decreased 11.5% in the period to $1.05 billion.
The timing of NBA action has had major effect on Warner Media LLC's cable unit this year.
The pandemic paused the pro basketball league's game play in March, shifting TNT (US)'s playoff coverage out of the second quarter, when AT&T Inc.'s Turner saw ad revenue recede 37.1% to some $800 million. Play resumed in late July, with TNT's presentations continuing throughout August and September, which served to lift third-quarter ad revenues 18% to $1.08 billion.
Typically, the new NBA season tips off in late October/early November. The 2020-21 campaign, though, does not begin until Dec. 22, so TNT has much less game inventory to work with this quarter.
The Walt Disney Co.'s advertising revenue improved 5.8% year over year to $2.78 billion during its most recently ended quarter, reflecting contributions from its media networks, as well as its direct-to-consumer and international unit. During the previous quarter, ad revenue plummeted 43.5% to $1.90 billion.
CFO Christine McCarthy said on the company's earnings call that ESPN (US)'s advertising revenue was up 26% in the period, which benefited from an extra week and the return of live sports events that drove higher rates, slightly offset by viewership declines. Given the number of events, Disney anticipates ESPN's ad revenue will grow when it reports next.
As for its Hulu LLC streaming service, she said Disney was seeing very strong demand in the addressable market, but year-over-year comparisons were negatively impacted on a per-sub basis by the ad market overall.